10 Steps to Finding a Great Therapist

After weeks, maybe months, of deliberating, you've finally decided to take the leap and go to therapy. You hoped it wouldn't come to this, but you need things to change and you've tried everything else you can think of. You don't know where to begin...you've never been in this place before...so you google "therapists in Santa Cruz" and are met with pages and pages of results. After reading through a few websites, you feel completely overwhelmed and in over-your-head. Or, you leave messages for several therapists and wait for call-backs...days later, no return calls. What to do? You thought deciding to see a therapist was the hard part, but finding a therapist seems even more challenging!

Unfortunately, this is the experience many people have when trying to find a counselor or a therapist with whom to meet. But it doesn't have to be this way. Listed below are 10 steps you can take to find a therapist who will be a good fit for you and whatever is bringing you to therapy. 

Step 1: Clarify your goals.

You might feel clear on why you are wanting to go to therapy at this point, but do you know specifically what you'd like to work on changing? The more specific you are on what your goals are for therapy, the more clear you can be when interviewing therapists, and the better idea you will get as to whether or not prospective therapists have the experience and the resources to provide you with real help. One helpful question to ask yourself is "in 3-6 months, if going to therapy was successful, what would my life look like? How would I be feeling and how would things be different?"

Also, how much time and expense are you willing to invest in this process? How much is it worth to you to achieve the goals you established? Getting clear on what you're willing to invest will help you to find a therapist who is a good fit for the resources you have available.

Step 2: Do some research.

Try specific Google searches for your goals; for example: "therapists in Santa Cruz who deal with depression." Psychology Today has a great therapist directory that allows you to search for local therapists and then allows you to filter these results based on a variety of specific factors, including issues you'd like to address, insurance accepted and treatment approaches. If you're hoping to use insurance to pay for therapy, insurance companies often have lists of contracted providers online, or you can call the number on the back of your insurance card and ask for assistance in finding a therapist. Asking your friends for recommendations can also be helpful.

Step 3: Narrow the results.

These days, most therapists have websites that offer information on their practices and areas of specialty. Are there any websites that seem to specifically address how you're feeling and the goals you've established? Does the therapist make him or herself easily accessible through a variety of contact methods? 

Step 4: Get on the phone.

Before you have any in-person meetings, it's important to speak to a potential therapist on the phone to briefly discuss your goals and to ask the therapist some basic questions. You don't have to get all your questions answered during this phone call...you just need to learn enough to be ready to take the next step of scheduling an initial appointment. Here are some questions you may want to ask:

  • Are you taking new clients?
  • I'd like to work on [whatever your specific goals/issues are] in therapy. What is your experience in working with this issue?
  • What approach do you typically use in your work with clients?
  • What is your fee and what are the different options to pay for therapy?
  • When do you have openings and how often do you usually meet with clients?

Step 5: Schedule an appointment.

If you speak to a therapist who has the experience you are looking for and who really seems to "get" what you are going through and wanting help with, the next step is to schedule an initial appointment at a time that works for you and for the therapist's current openings. Scheduling a first appointment does not mean you have to keep working with this therapist...during the first appointment you will continue to gather more information to determine whether or not the therapist is a good fit for who you are and for the goals you have.

Step 6: Read over the intake paperwork.

Every therapist has his or her own set of intake paperwork, and usually you will go over this paperwork either online or in the office prior to your first meeting. Going through the paperwork might seem monotonous, but a therapist's policies and procedures typically reveal important things about the way the therapist will approach your work together, as well as what you can expect during the therapy process. Make sure to ask questions to clarify anything that is confusing or unclear. 

Step 7: Initial appointment.

During the first session, you and the therapist will spend the time getting to know each other, clarifying your goals, and determining whether or not working together will be a good fit for you. Here are some things for you to pay attention to during your first session:

  • Although meeting someone new, especially a therapist, can be uncomfortable, you should come away feeling more comfortable and at ease than you were at the beginning. Was this your experience?
  • Is the therapist supportive of your goals? Did he or she really seem to "get" where you are coming from? Did you establish a clear focus for your work together during the first appointment?
  • Did the therapist spend the bulk of the session listening to you and getting to know you? Did you feel comfortable sharing with the therapist?
  • Did the therapist give you an opportunity to ask any questions you had?

If you can answer "yes" to all of the above questions after your initial appointment, it is likely that working with this therapist will be a good fit for you! 

Step 8: Attend sessions regularly.

No matter what your particular situation, therapy is always an investment of time, money and energy. In order to make the investment as worthwhile as possible, it is important to attend sessions regularly. If you notice yourself wanting to cancel sessions on a regular basis, pay attention to why this may be and bring it up with your therapist. It could be that the pace of therapy is not right for you, or that you are feeling stuck in some way. Or, it could be that you are ready to take a break from therapy. Whatever the case, having a conversation with your therapist about it will help to clarify the best next step for you.

Step 9: Be honest.

Honesty can be one of the most difficult parts about therapy for many people. Many of us are not used to being honest with other people or with ourselves. But, the more honest you are able to be with yourself and with the therapist, the more you will get out of your investment. This includes being honest with the therapist if you are not satisfied with the way therapy is going. A good therapist will listen to your feedback and adjust therapy accordingly.

Step 10: Track your progress.

A good therapist should regularly touch base with you about how therapy is going and monitor your progress toward your established goals. These types of regular check-ins help the therapy process to stay on track and focused on accomplishing your goals.